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ND Women’s Tennis: Notre Dame topples Memphis

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, April 8, 2013

It wasn’t the finish anyone wanted.
No. 36 Memphis (16-4) and No. 21 Notre Dame (12-8) were tied at three points apiece Sunday afternoon, with the deciding point resting on the outcome of the No. 5 court match between Irish sophomore Molly O’Koniewski and Memphis sophomore Alyssa Hibberd. Both had won a set in the tiebreak, and Hibberd narrowly led the third set, five games to four. As O’Koniewski went to return a volley in Hibberd’s match point, the Notre Dame sophomore turned her ankle slightly.
Hibberd won the point to claim an individual victory 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, but it was clear t he Tigers would’ve preferred that their 4-3 victory had ended differently.
“It was too bad because she was in the point, I think,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said.
O’Koniewski’s loss put an end to a furious Irish comeback attempt after the Tigers claimed the first three match points of the contest.
Senior Chrissie McGaffigan and her doubles partner, junior Jennifer Kellner, beat seniors Courtney Collins and Kelly Gray, 8-3, but Notre Dame juniors Julie Sabacinski and Britney Sanders fell to sophomore Alyssa Hibberd and graduate student Tiffany Welcher, 8-5. Meanwhile, Memphis junior Stefanie Mikesz and freshman Caroline Wegner outlasted Irish freshmen Quinn Gleason and Julie Vrabel, 9-7.
“They’re not ranked in the top-25 but they are top-25,” Louderback said. “We knew it was probably going to be important to win the doubles. We didn’t do it. We did a good job fighting back, because we’ve had to do that a lot all year, but we need to get where we’re not playing from behind all the time.”
The first singles matches to finish didn’t help Notre Dame’s chances. Wegner beat sophomore Katherine White, 6-1, 6-4, and Welcher took down Gleason in two sets, winning 6-3, 6-1.
But the tides began to change when McGaffigan, who was honored in a senior day ceremony before the match, won the first match point of the day for the Irish by beating freshman Skylar Kuykendal 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.
“She played so well in singles and doubles, and a lot of times senior day is hard to play, but that’s how Chrissie’s played all year,” Louderback said. “She’s done a great job and played well consistently all year.”
Kellner and No. 48 Sanders kept Notre Dame’s hopes alive with wins on the No. 3 and No. 1 courts, setting up the winner-take-all match-up between Hibberd and O’Koniewski.
In many ways, the end of the match belied the atmosphere of the competition. The “Racketeers,” a rambunctious student section dressed in a variety of costumes, provided entertainment for fans and athletes alike as they encouraged the Irish to “Protect the Eck.”
“They are the most enthusiastic fans that we have,” McGaffigan said. “They’re just awesome, and I think some of our opponents that come in are a little confused as to what is going in, because no other tennis team has them.”
But for McGaffigan, the best part of the match was the opportunity to reflect on four years as a member of the tennis team.
“It’s was just so amazing, seeing how well my teammates knew me,” McGaffigan said. “Everything was pink, and they had my favorite quotes out and it just meant a lot to me, how much they put into it. And even though we lost today, I love this team so much and there’s no team I’d rather play for.”
McGaffigan’s not done just yet.
The Irish have just one weekend of regular season play remaining before the Big East tournament. They are set to face Central Florida in Orlando at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu